Cornelis Melyn, Patroon of Staten Island

Cornelis Melyn - Patroon of Staten Island

Corneille (Cornelis) Melyn, a son of Andries Melyn and of Marie Ghuedinx-Botens, was born at the house called The Sack in the Rue du Sac (Zak Straat or Sack Street), Antwerp. He was christened September 17, 1600 at the Saint Walburga Church, Antwerp (See map); died between 1662 and 1665 at New Haven, Connecticut.

Witnesses (godparents) at his baptism were Corneille Lobeyn and Sara Verreyken. Cornelis was orphaned at the age of six, and Jacques Melyn and Hans Salomons, his uncles, became his legal guardians. Cornelis was reared by his half-brother, Abraham Melyn. As a 12-year-old, he was apprenticed to Thierry (Dirk) Verschulder to learn the trade of tailor.  Two years later, Cornelis was apprenticed to Artus van Hembeke. For the first four years of training, the masters are traditionally paid for providing training and room and board. Early in 1617, van Hembeke paid Cornelis 20 florins for his last year of working for the master tailor.

Cornelis left Antwerp in September 1618 with his baptismal certificate and testimonials of good character. He returned September 2, 1626 to settle his affairs and claim some inheritances from his parents, sister, and an uncle.

He was married April 22, 1627 at Amsterdam,  The Netherlands to Johanne/ Janneken/Jannetje Adriaens daughter of Adriaen Reyerson. (See their signatures below)

The couple had eleven children: Baptized in Amsterdam - Cornelia, Feb. 27, 1628; Joannes, April 27, 1629; Cornelis, Jr., Sept. 6, 1630 (d bef Oct. 4, 1633); Cornelis, Jr., Oct.4, 1633; Abraham, May 27, 1635; Mariken, March 29, 1637; Yzaak, Nov. 21, 1638 (d before July 22, 1646); Jacob, April 17, 1640; and, Baptized at the Reformed Dutch Church of New Amsterdam (now known as the Collegiate Church) - Sanna (Susannah), Jun3 14, 1643; Magdalena, March 3, 1644/5; and Yzaak, July 22, 1646.

Cornelis' occupation is listed as "dresser of fine and soft leathers" on his marriage license issued April 22, 1627. He was living on Elant Street, Amsterdam, at the time. The marriage license says Jannetje is "from Myert, 23 years, having no parents, living on the Lindegracht..." (Gracht means canal.) Myert is believed to be today's Hooge en Lage Mierde at Kempen Land in the Province of North Brabant, The Netherlands. 

Cornelis made twelve known voyages across the Atlantic. His first was on his ship Het Wapen van Noorwegen (The Arms of Norway). He left his family in safety to sail from Trexel to New Netherland (today's New York) in May 1638. He arrived August 4, 1638 in the New World.

A fort had been built at the south end of Manhattan Island, and a small town, New Amsterdam, created for the farmers brought to supply a military garrison. Cornelis spent only ten days in New Netherland before he set sail, first to Newfoundland then to France. He arrived in France, where he sold the ship and its cargo in the spring of 1639.

Cornelis left for America again in May 1639 on the ship De Liefde (The Love). He arrived in late July and spent six weeks in New Netherland during that summer. In September 1639, he left for Holland, possibly on either Brant van Troyen or Den Harnick, arriving before December 9, 1639.

To increase immigration the Dutch West India Company had offered large land grants with feudal authority to wealthy investors (patroons) willing to transport, at their own expense, fifty adult settlers to New Netherlands. Impressed with his visits to the New World, Cornelis applied for and received a patroonship and Manoral rights for the domain of Pavonia Hall on Staten Island from the West India Company July 3, 1640. (See a brief history of Staten Island and New Amsterdam below.) A month later, he set out again for America, but lost everything soon afterward when his ship De Vergulde Hoop (The Guilded Hope) was captured by pirates. He returned to Holland before February 1641.

While Cornelis was in Holland, trouble was brewing in New Netherland because the Dutch colonists did not treat the native tribes well. Dutch farmers permitted livestock to forage freely in the woods where they often invaded unfenced native corn fields. In July 1640, Director General Willem Kieft sent 100 armed men to punish the Raritan Indians when some pigs disappeared on Staten Island. The expedition killed several Raritan, including a sachem (chief). On September 1, the Indians retaliated, killing four Dutch settlers and burning all the buildings, wiping out Staten Island's first settlement.

 In 1641, before Cornelis ever  took physical possession of his patroonship, he sold half of his interest in Staten Island to finance his next voyage. He then set sail with his family and about 40 colonists on the ship Den Eyckenboom (The Oak Tree). They departed about May 17, 1641 and arrived in New Netherland about August 14, 1641.

Cornelis immediately became involved in political affairs. He organized a group called The Twelve Men shortly after his arrival. On January 21, 1642, the group sent a petition to Kieft designating themselves as "selectmen on behalf of the Commonality of New Netherland," hoping to establish a voice in the affairs of the colony.

Despite the fact that Cornelis Melyn was a vocal political activist opposing Kieft's policies, Kieft asked him to build America's first whiskey distillery in what is known today as New Brighton. The settlers taught the local Indians to drink whiskey. Put simply, when the Indians got drunk, the settlers took advantage of them. The Indians became angry and killed many of the Dutch farmers and burnt their homes. Melyn's settlement was destroyed by Indians during this "Whiskey War" in 1642. Melyn and family fled to New Amsterdam.

From 1643 to1645, "Governor Keifts’ War" against about 20 tribes of local Indians rampaged around Manhattan and Staten islands. More than 2,500 lives were lost.

Kieft had decided to exterminate one tribe to set an example to the other Wilden (wild men) near Manhattan. On the night of February 25, 1643, his men made two surprise attacks on the sleeping villages near Pavonia and, without regard for sex or age, massacred at least 110. As word of the "Pavonia Massacre" spread to the other tribes along the lower river, they retaliated with continuous attacks on the outlying Dutch farms and settlements.

In October, the Staten Island settlement was left in "desolate waste" after an Indian attack. Melyn again took his family to Manhattan Island, where he bought a home to be used as temporary lodging during the troubled times. In that year, Cornelis received a patent for 62 English feet along the road to the north and 88 feet deep to the river shore (now the end of Broad Street) and built a modest home.

In August 1644, he bought another house, paying 250 guilders for it. In December 1644, he bought yet another house, this time paying 950 guilders. That year, Kieft offered 25,000 guilders to the English in Connecticut for 150 men to help put down the Indian uprising. The combined forces crushed the natives.

Cornelis assembled with most of the inhabitants of New Amsterdam to meet Petrus (Peter) Stuyvesant, the newly appointed director general, when he arrived on May 11, 1647. Melyn immediately brought charges against Kieft, which Stuyvesant refused to consider. In turn, Kieft charged Melyn with sedition. Fearing the worst, Cornelis deeded his house to his oldest daughter, Cornelia Melyn Loper, July 11, 1647.

On July 25, 1647, Cornelis was found guilty of treason, bearing false witness, libel and defamation. He was sentenced to seven years of banishment and fined 300 guilders. In August 1647, a few months after Stuyvesant's arrival, the Princess Amelia sailed for Holland. On board were Kieft, Dominic Bogardus, minister at Manhattan from 1633 to 1647, victims of Kieft's and Stuyvesant's persecution - Joachim Pietersz Kuyter and Cornelis Melyn. An eyewitness account says they were "brought on board like criminals and torn away from their goods, their wives and their children". The ship was wrecked on the coast of Wales on September 27, 1647. Kieft and Bogardus drowned along with about 80 others including Cornelis Melyn’s young son (believed to be Johannes). The survivors, including Cornelis Melyn,  built a raft from the wreckage and used their shirts as sails to get to the English mainland.

Cornelis arrived in Holland in late October. He wasted no time getting to the States General at the Hague, where all proceedings against him were suspended. With a letter of safety from William II, Prince of Orange (also known as William III, King of England), he returned to New Amsterdam, leaving Holland in May 1649. The ship is believed to have been the De Jonge Prins van Denmark. Presented with the court orders from the Hague and the safe conduct from William of Orange, Stuyvesant's council permitted him to reside in New Netherland.

Cornelis again returned to Holland, leaving New Netherland (possibly on the Prins Willem) in August 1649 to further fight for his case against Stuyvesant. He arrived in Holland on October 4, 1649. In a letter of December 17, believed to have been written in 1649, Janneken Melyn wrote from New Netherland complaining to Cornelis Melyn that "poor people have scarcely enough to eat, for no supplies of bread, butter, beef and pork can now be had, except for beaver or silver coin." The letter went on to say Stuyvesant, "promised the people either beavers or silver coin, or cargoes in the spring." She ended the letter with a final descriptive sentence of the hardships endured in the new land. "It is so cold here, that the ink freezes in the pen."

Although his case was seemingly never settled, Cornelis set sail for his home in America August 10, 1650 on the Nieuw Nederlandtsche Fortuyn. This trip, he brought more colonists with him. On  December 19, 1650, Melyn returned to Staten Island and built farms again. His colony on Staten Island finally began to prosper.

Melyn was beginning to recoup some of his financial losses when on August 22, 1651 Stuyvesant arrested him on trumped up charges and had him thrown into a dark hole in the prison. Stuyvesant confiscated about two-thirds of Cornelis' property and sold it. Because of the pleading of Jannetje and her children, Cornelis was released following an Indian attack on Manhattan. Cornelis went directly to Staten Island.

One fall day in 1655, a man named Hendrick VanDyke, who lived on Manhattan Island, looked out his window and saw an Indian woman take a peach from a tree in his garden. Without hesitation, he shot her.

Soon, Dutch settlers found they had 200 angry warriors tearing the island apart looking for the culprit. They eventually found and seriously wounded VanDyke. After deaths to both sides, the warriors retired across the Hudson River and burned Dutch farms at Pavonia, Hoboken, and Staten Island. The "Peach War" cost the Dutch about 50 lives. Melyn's colony was destroyed and several of his family members were among those killed and injured. Cornelis and his remaining family were among 100 colonists who were taken hostage by the Indians. Stuyvesant ransomed them.

After the hostages were released, Cornelis gave up his patroonship and left Staten Island. He then moved to New Haven, Connecticut, "to put myself under the protection of the English." He and his son, Jacob, took the Oath of Allegiance to the English April 7,  1657.

Cornelis and his two surviving sons, Jacob and Isaac, returned to Holland, leaving in December 1658 and arriving February 13, 1659. They returned to America on the ship The Love on March 5, 1660, to their new home in Connecticut.

Cornelis was in and out of court in New Haven continually until his death. His background did not mix well with the Puritan way of life. Jannetje's name appears in records until 1674.

Signature source: The New York Historical and Biographical Record, January 1937, Cornelis Melyn, Patron of Staten Island and Some of his Descendants, page 4.

Cornelis Melyn, the "Patroon of Staten Island," is mentioned in many of the early histories of New Amsterdam, as well as "The Documentary History of the State of New York" vol. 4, "First Families of America," and "The Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy." The "New York Historical and Biographical Record" vol. 67-68 gives a fairly complete genealogy of the family in its 1936-37 issues.

The brief history of Staten Island below is based on the book, "Staten Island: 1524 - 1898", Revised Edition by Henry G. Steinmeyer. Staten Island Historical Society., Staten Island, N.Y., 1987.

September 11, 1609 - Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing for the Dutch, sailed into the narrows on his boat De Halve Maen (The Half Moon) stopping briefly at Staten Island and then up the river that now bears his name. On his way back from the river he stopped at the Island again and called it Staaten Eylandt in honor of the States General of Holland. The  local Indians soon gave him trouble so he left for Holland. The Dutch claimed the whole territory as theirs, naming it New Netherland.

Spring of 1623 - The Dutch West Indian Company's first permanent settlers landed at Manhattan Island from the ship New Netherland. Most of the earlier settlers decided not to settle on Staten Island, but they often stopped at the northeast tip of Staten Island called the "Watering Place" to fill their bottles with fresh water from a stream.

1626 -Director General Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for 60 guilders worth (about $24) of trinkets and cloth.

1629 -The Dutch West Indian Company, in charge of running the colony, saw that there were very few people coming to New Netherland, so they came up with the patroon system to get more people to come. The Patroon System works by one person getting a huge piece of land. The land was called a patroonship; the person was called a patroon. The patroon was required to get 50 people to come to settle in New Netherland. The patroon was lord of his land.

There were four Staten Island Patroons. In the summer 1630, Michael Pauw (a wealthy director of the Dutch West Indian Company) became the first patroon. His patroonship included all of Staten Island and parts of New Jersey (Bayonne, Jersey City and Hoboken). He did not settle a colony on Staten Island and on August 13, 1636, David De Vries (also a director of the Company) asked to take over Pauw's patroonship. De Vries landed at the "Watering Place" (today 's Tompkinsville), to build Staten Island's first colony, January 5, 1639. Many farms were started.

In July 1640, hogs owned by the patroons were stolen . The settlers blamed the Raritan Indians, attacking and killing some of them. On September 1, the Raritan Indians retaliated, killing many settlers and burning all the buildings down. Staten Island's first settlement was wiped out.

Cornelius Melyn became the third patroon in June 1642, when De Vries agreed to give him the entire Staten Island, except the De Vries plantation.

Director General Kieft of New Amsterdam asked Melyn to build America's first whiskey distillery in what is known today as New Brighton. The settlers taught the Indians to drink whiskey, but when the Indians got drunk the settlers took advantage of them. The Indians got angry, killed nearly all the Dutch farmers and burnt the homes down. Melyn's settlement was destroyed by Indian during the "Whiskey War". Melyn fled to  New Amsterdam.

On  Dec. 19 1650, Melyn returned to Staten Island and built farms again. Peter Stuyvesant replaced Kieft as Governor.

One day in 1655, a man named VanDyke, who lived on Manhattan Island, looked out his window and saw an Indian  woman steal a peach from his tree. He shot her. Angered, the Indians started the "Peach War". Melyn's colony was destroyed, so he left Staten Island and returned to Holland.

Van der Capellen was Staten Island's last patroon, but he never tried to live on his lands because of the damage caused by the Peach War. On August 22, 1661, Pierre Billiou (a Walloon, a French-speaking person of Celtic descent who lived in Southern Belgium and France) and Walraven Luten requested permission to build colonies on Staten Island. This became the first permanent settlement on Staten Island. The settlers were mainly French people who were looking for religious freedom.

1664 - Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch Governor in New Amsterdam, was forced to surrender to the British, who attacked from the sea. New Amsterdam and Staten Island became part of the English Colony, now called New York.

To learn about the early Indian tribes in the Manhattan and Staten  Island areas see: <> and <>